California Releasing Some Nonviolent Inmates Early

Inmates at Chino State Prison. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Inmates at Chino State Prison. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

By Mina Kim and Don Clyde

California has begun releasing some nonviolent prisoners early in order to meet a court order to ease overcrowding in the state’s prison population.

Those early releases began two weeks ago, according to a Los Angeles Times report Tuesday.

Back in February, a panel of federal judges agreed to give Gov. Jerry Brown two more years to meet the court’s inmate population targets. The state remains more than 5,000 inmates over that target.

The Brown administration has estimated that about 1,400 inmates would be released early over the federally granted two-year period.

L.A. Times reporter Paige St. John spoke with KQED’s Mina Kim about the releases (listen to the interview below). St. John said the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has not told her how many inmates have been released so far.

“The Corrections Department has been refusing for a week to comment on this matter, and in fact, probation departments themselves were unaware they were already receiving these released prisoners until we contacted them and had them go through the intake forms of people arriving at the door,” St. John said.

But the Corrections Department has to give an update to federal judges by May 15 on what it’s doing, and St. John said it’s likely to count those numbers in its next report. St. John also said concerns over public safety and recidivism of these early inmate releases are probably overblown.

“This particular population is not expected to have a dramatic or even measurable increase on public safety or crime rates, largely because these are individuals who would be released anyway,” St. John said. “They’re just being released sooner. And experts who had been working for the prisoners in the class-action litigation over California’s prison conditions have submitted their own reports finding that there would be no impact on public safety, and in fact, might improve things by allowing people to have a goal of working toward early release by allowing them to earn good-behavior credits, encouraging them to participate in things that will give them a better chance of staying out of trouble when they’re on the street.”

Listen to the full interview below.

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